Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a compelling psychological drama with comedic undertones. While it focuses on the trials and tribulations of maintaining a career in show business, this movie is essentially about life and the human condition in general.
The plot revolves around has-been Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson and his desire to achieve emotional and creative fulfillment by taking to the stage on Broadway. He believes directing and starring in a play which he has adapted from a short story is his one opportunity to renew his career and sense of purpose. However, the voice of Birdman – a role for which Riggan was once revered – now haunts his thoughts, berating him and breaking down his sanity.
The narrative unfolds with a strong sense of surrealism that very effectively conveys the desperation and frustration felt by Riggan. This is accomplished through the movie’s rather unique and specific approach to both its cinematography and soundtrack.
Scene breaks are largely thrown aside in favour of making the movie seem like one continuous shot. Instead of fading out or shifting setting to portray the passage of time, the camera usually pans out or around before zooming back in on the action. It lends a restlessness to the proceedings that illustrates Riggan’s emotional state and possible declining sanity extremely well.
This effect is greatly enhanced by the movie’s score, which consists almost entirely of percussion pieces. The use of drums and cymbals throughout appropriately reflects the often frantic mood established by the narrative. It draws viewers into Riggan’s world, forcing them to feel the stress and tension of his situation rather than merely observe it.
While the script and dialogue have a tendency to be delivered in a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware manner, the music does a spectacular job at maintaining an underlying ominous atmosphere. There is an ever present unsettling feel about the whole thing, even in the lightest of moments. This is very much emphasized by the soundtrack.
The greatest strength of this movie though is most certainly its performances, the best of which is that offered by Michael Keaton. We experience nearly everything through Riggan’s mind, including all of his apparent delusions. Keaton channels the angst and torment of the character flawlessly. His absorbing portrayal keeps things consistently ambivalent and ensures that suspense persists right up until the credits roll.
Edward Norton turns in a powerful performance as erratic actor, Mike Shiner. His chemistry with Keaton is undeniable and a genuine highlight of the movie. Norton’s depiction of Shiner, ranging from humourous to disturbing, impeccably exhibits the character’s eccentricity.
Zach Galifianakis may have made a name for himself through his more comedic roles, but he plays Riggan’s lawyer, Jake, with barely a hint of humour. Galifianakis proves he has legitimate acting skills here and ends up a pleasant surprise as result.
Emma Stone continues to show she more than has what it takes to be counted among Hollywood’s finest actors. She appears as Riggan’s daughter, Sam, who is alluded to have a complex backstory. It’s unfortunate that both her past and her troubled relationship with her father aren’t fleshed out in greater detail, but that’s only a minor critique.
At its core, Birdman explores the pressures of life and the toll they can take. It delves into the obstacles and hardships of Riggan Thomson’s life, as well as the triumphs, and uses them as a metaphor for what it is to be human. The result is a finely acted, cleverly written movie that’s as grounded and realistic as it is outlandish and ambiguous.
Follow @davesimpson1 on Twitter for notifications about new posts.